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Thursday June 30, 2022

Books in June

  • The Cliff House by Christopher Brookmyre
    BOM-TheCliffHouse.jpg This is another excellent novel from Chris Brookmyre - an all time favourite since he first introduced us to Jack Parlabane and his version of the "Tartan Noire" novel. Since then he has not stuck to the one detective - despite his evident popularity - but has explored a lot of different writing techniques and styles, and all with great success in my opinion.
    This is a "locked room" mystery, set in luxury a retreat isolated on a remote Scottish island a la "And Then There Were None". The characters are looking forward to a relaxing hen weekend with the usual copious quantities of alcohol and gourmet dining provided by their very own personal chef. However, the bloody demise of the chef on the first evening is a fairly strong indicator that things are not going to plan... and then they discover that they have no communications with the outside world...
    The story is narrated through the eyes of each character in turn, gradually revealing that each of them has a (greater or lesser) dark secret in their past, increasing the tension as we wait to find out which of them might be bent on such a ghastly form of blackmail revenge.
    If you share my own taste for well-written twisty plots and properly rounded endings, you can always be sure of a great read when you open any of CB's books - this one being no exception.

  • In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear [read by Julie Teal]
    BOM-InThisGraveHour.jpg Here we find Maisie at the very start of WW2, with events from the previous war all too sharp in her memory. The story concerns Belgian refugees who remained in Britain after WW1, and a tragic event from their past which led to an inexplicable string of murders so many years later.
    The book provides an excellent account of every day life, as civilians start to get to grips with the rituals of gas masks and sheltering from air raids - as well as some less well-remembered political points (see note).
    Note: Before the Blitz started, the government ordered London Transport not to allow people to use the tube stations as shelters - which seems astonishing now, as we more or less identify that period with Londoners sheltering in the Underground. It seems that though Churchill was happy to use a disused underground station as a refuge himself, he talked about forcibly preventing the general populace from doing the same. However, Underground station staff found that it was impossible to stop people entering and setting up their own primitive camps below ground, and in October 1940, the government policy was changed. The short branch line to Aldwych station (often used now and in the past for filming historic dramas) was closed and given over to the public, and three disused stations were specially opened to the public.

  • Riviera Gold by Laurie R King[Read by Jenny Sterlin]
    BOM-RivieraGold.jpg I would say: 'I love these books', but I have found the last two slightly harder going.
    The books are really about Mary rather than Holmes, and I think she writes well about the latter, with understanding and affection, but I'm not keen on her treatment of some of the other characters. Speaking as a Brit, I suppose, I do not really like Mary's rift with Mycroft, and as I mentioned before, I actively dislike what she has done with Mrs Hudson (now "Clarissa", apparently). This story features "Clarissa" centre stage, so I found it hard to engage with it, plus I found the method of the telling - the plot interspersed with "conversations" between two women in a different timeline - rather confusing, (although that may have been simply that it was not ideal for an audio book). And while I do enjoy the author's peppering the stories with well-known characters from the period (in this case Picasso - probably not very realistically in my opinion but... what do I know?), I did prefer her use of fictional characters (ie Lord Peter Wimsey and Kim for example).

  • Winter Holiday, and We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
    [Read by Gareth Armstrong] BOM-WeDidntMeanToGoToSea.jpg BOM-WinterHoliday.jpg
    While Peter Duck is a true adventure story in the style of Treasure Island, these two books are a whole other kettle of fish. In Winter Holiday the Swallows and Amazons meet up with the Ds for the first time, with snow everywhere, and the lake frozen over. Nancy is in bed with the mumps, but still well in charge of the rest - who are in quarantine for the duration and unable to return to school - and their expedition to the "North Pole". This is perhaps the more realistic of the two books, in that the children end up in a very bad situation in a blizzard - all very low key unless you have actually been in that situation - and they are lucky to escape perishing from exposure while no-one has any idea where they can be. It's also a perfect illustration of mis-communications ["when you see a signal start for the North Pole"], which provides a good lesson to inform your later life!
    In the same vein, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea is even more heart-stoppingly awful, as we watch the Swallows step-by-step make the wrong decisions in an unfamiliar boat - culminating in the inevitable loss of the anchor, and the start of a ghastly trip across the North Sea in a storm. In some ways it could be said that this is a slightly less realistic scenario, but only in as much as - duffers or not - the more realistic outcome would have been that they all drowned. Luckily, with many more books in the series, this was not the case. Again, this is agonising reading as an adult, and again, I love the way the adults are depicted - especially in the closing chapter, as Mr Walker is viewed by the children at a distance, explaining to his wife what their children had really been up to.

Posted by Christina at 12:44 PM. Category: Books of the Month


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